Jun 24 2013

Did I accidentally take some ‘shrooms halfway through this video?

Richard Dawkins was explaining design, and then halfway through, something happened. Acid flashback, maybe. Or somebody slipped something in my tea. It was kinda ’60s, though.

If it’s just me, I may have to sign myself into rehab for a while.


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  1. 1
    A Hermit

    I didn’t notice anything. Must be you…

  2. 2
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Jebus, are you up to 10 cuppas tea a day?

  3. 3

    Looks like the Japaneses invaded.

  4. 4

    You feelin’ all right, PZ?

  5. 5

    I vote to keep extreme advertising agencies and science educators far apart. Didn’t like that very much. Just too high a weirdness-to-information ratio.

  6. 6

    Minnesota water maybe?

  7. 7
    Ray, rude-ass yankee (now in HD-3D!)

    What. The. Heck. Was. That? ‘shrooms indeed.

  8. 8
    Glen Davidson

    That’s probably the most annoying aspect of Dawkins, that he accepts the Paleyian/IDiot/creationist notion that improbability and function make things “appear designed,” even though that’s certainly not the end of the story for Dawkins.

    No, it’s rocks that look designed, or at least specific rocks like Giant’s Causeway do, and minerals like pyrite cubes and “faceted” topazes look designed–and these concerned the Greeks and their intellectual descendants, who thought forms might be the answer. Organisms look descended from other organisms, which why design seems not to be the more common “explanation” among the ancients, although it’s hardly unknown (Genesis 2 should probably be more thought of as a story of art–sculpture–plus life’s spirit, rather than any functional design–if a sort of artistic design nonetheless).

    Vitalism wouldn’t have existed if organisms looked designed in any exact sense, as vitalism is about organisms being very unlike our designed objects, even if there was enough ambiguity in these nebulous ideas for creationists to claim both a godly sort of design plus vitalism.

    And I didn’t notice anything strange either. Could be the acid, though…

    Glen Davidson

  9. 9

    Not nearly enough rhyming.

  10. 10

    Should have hired melodysheep to do this.

  11. 11

    Clearly, Timothy Leary faked his death and now makes a living as an impersonator.

  12. 12

    Erj nurum p’tharg??!11?

  13. 13
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    Huh… Dawkins has a little musical ability in him. I’m actually slightly impressed.

    Being a fan of experimental stuff (I do listen to and play experimental/psychedelic/drone guitar, after all), this was actually kind of fun. Rather impressed with Dawkins on it. When I met him he came across as very cold, aloof, and sort of stuck up. He seemed quite natural here, though, which surprised me. He must have a playful side, after all.

    I thought it was relatively enjoyable. Good for him.

  14. 14

    @Glen Davidson – Yeah, I’ve never bought this notion that living things appear designed. I’ve always thought that designed = man made, therefore not designed = not man made. The opposite of designed is, for want of a better word, natural. That’s what was always fundamentally wrong with the watchmaker analogy to me. We know the watch is designed because we see the hand of humans in its creation. We see nothing of the sort in a bird.

  15. 15

    I especially enjoyed the electric clarinet.

  16. 16
    drbunsen, le savant fous

    60s? Naw man, that was so 90s it hurt.

    Stand back! I have a Video Toaster and I’m not afraid to use it!

  17. 17

    Suppose humans terraform Mars and then go extinct. Later, extraterrestrials come to this solar system. Would it be immediately obvious to them which ecosystem was “natural” and which was designed? Or, would they have to carefully study the details of both to tease out the history of each one?

  18. 18

    I would kill to see Dawkins, or better yet, someone like Bill Nye, resurrect Max Headroom for the 20-teens and educate a whole new generation. It could be done much better than this though. Cyriak as an animator would be way too creepy to be popular.

  19. 19


    That’s a really interesting question but I don’t think it could be answered without filling in a lot of details about how humans eventually terraform Mars as well as some questions about planetary geology that might be a sight more obvious to interstellar travelers than they are to us.

    For example, could they see at a glance that Mars is too distant from the sun and too low-gravity to have ever been the cradle for intelligent life, perhaps because they had first-hand observations of terrestrial planets under various conditions?

    For another, did we terraform Mars by genetically engineering some microbe that (for the sake of argument) metabolizes limestone and releases carbon dioxide gas, thickening the atmosphere and raising the ambient temperature enough to release the water vapor and CO2 frozen at the poles and in the permafrost? Did we seed Mars with a few hardy plants and let natural selection take its course and then select the best results of natural selection to hybridize and breed into food crops that could support human populations?

    There is presumably — in principle — a way to terraform Mars that would look a whole lot like natural biological evolution. But it would probably take a few million years and at the very least a few thousand.

    This gets to be a question for Arthur Clarke: how advanced does technology need to be before it is indistinguishable from nature?

  20. 20
    Ray, rude-ass yankee (now in HD-3D!)

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
    So Lavine’s corollary would be: Any sufficiently advanced biological technology would be indistinguishable from nature?
    I kind of like that idea.

  21. 21


    I’d credit Ran Prieur. Probably not a popular thinker around these parts but he definitely said stuff like that before I did.

    I’d actually go a step farther: nanotechnology is probably going to look a lot like biology. If you wanted to make a molecule-scale motor how much better could you do than a flagellum?

  22. 22
    Julien Rousseau

    Looking at Dawkins’ shirt was enough to send me on an acid flashback… or would be if I had ever done acid.

    More seriously, snowflakes could be said to look designed in the same way that animals do, yet we know how these improbable configurations get formed without any input from a conscious mind.

  23. 23
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    halfway through, something happened

    Needs more cowbell.

    (I was freaked even before I clicked play. That shirt!)

  24. 24
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    More seriously, snowflakes could be said to look designed in the same way that animals do, yet we know how these improbable configurations get formed without any input from a conscious mind.

    Sorry to go off-topic, but this is actually something that has always gnawed away at the back of my mind.

    Is it really true that no two snowflakes look alike, or is that, as I suspect, an urban myth?

  25. 25
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    Quantum post-tanglement strikes again! *waves at #22* :-)

  26. 26

    This gets to be a question for Arthur Clarke: how advanced does technology need to be before it is indistinguishable from nature?

    What if- as Philip Gosse argued in Omphalos- the universe was deliberately designed to look as if it wasn’t?

    Is it really true that no two snowflakes look alike, or is that, as I suspect, an urban myth?

    It depends how closely you look. Look in small enough detail and there will be differences. When the differences become insignificant depends on what you are looking for.

  27. 27

    I wear shirts like that to work. Never dropped acid in the middle of a talk, though.

  28. 28
    Julien Rousseau

    Is it really true that no two snowflakes look alike, or is that, as I suspect, an urban myth

    From here:

    Q: So, why are no two snowflakes exactly alike?

    A: Well, that’s because individual snowflakes all follow slightly different paths from the sky to the ground —and thus encounter slightly different atmospheric conditions along the way. Therefore, they all tend to look unique, resembling everything from prisms and needles to the familiar lacy pattern.

    It probably depends on what “alike” means. How close do two snowflakes need to be to be considered alike?

    Also, even if two snowflakes look alike, how likely is it for them to be formed in the same time and place so as to be compared to each other (or how likely is it for both of them to be photographed for comparison).

    Quantum post-tanglement strikes again! *waves at #22* :-)

    #22 observes post, collapses wave.

  29. 29
    throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble

    It gave me the I’m-slightly-embarrassed-for-the-display-of-cheesiness-which-I-am-witnessing chills.

  30. 30
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I’ve always heard that trope in reference to every single snowflake that has ever fallen on the earth. I can sort of see it for one individual day’s worth of snow, but every snowflake ever?

  31. 31
    Ray, rude-ass yankee (now in HD-3D!)

    Interesting thought, you may be on to something there. Incorporation of the best extant mechanisms from biology into nanotech designs is probably the easiest route to making it work.

  32. 32

    I spent the whole video waiting for Dawkins to drop the bass.


  33. 33
    Marcus Ranum

    The flying head of Dawkins reminded me of Zardoz. Maybe it’s the shrooms.

  34. 34
    Ray, rude-ass yankee (now in HD-3D!)


  35. 35
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    I was waiting for it to turn into a Beck video.

  36. 36
    Ray, rude-ass yankee (now in HD-3D!)

    I guess it would depend how long elapses between when Mars is terraformed and when the extraterrestrials show up. After the new biosphere starts up (assuming it was designed well enough to be self sustaining), selection pressures start to change what’s there, until eventually even the humans who started it wouldn’t recognize it as what they planted. After a long enough time DNA would show relationships between the biospheres of Earth and Mars but which came first might be difficult to discover for our extraterrestrials.
    My $.02 anyway.
    Sorry for the almost blank post @34 I started to type and hit submit somehow by mistake.

  37. 37
    congenital cynic

    Okay, that last half was pretty fucking weird. But it’s well after dinner on the east coast, it was a hot day, and I’m relaxing with a really good buzz on, so, whatever. It didn’t do anything for me. Maybe other drugs would have been better. Who cares? Dawkins is on the right side. Glad he’s doing what he’s doing. But gotta move on. Better music out there to listen to.

  38. 38
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    That’s pretty much what I’m seeing when forced to talk to clients.

  39. 39

    Big fan of Dick’s since 1978 when I first read TSG.as an undergrad Zoology major.
    He’d never be my first fantasy choice for tripping with.

    The visuals were pretty 60s but not the synthetic music.

  40. 40

    And thus “Evolved the Shark” was born.

  41. 41

    That was only 1 notch above William Shatner’s rendition of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

  42. 42

    Whether or not any two snowflakes ‘look alike’ isn’t the usual stronger version of the myth that is promulgated. The strong version states that no two are ever (physically) alike.

    However, a moment of thought should show that that any given snowflake crystal weighing a typical 1 mg composed of some 3×10^13 water molecules will be accepting or releasing water molecules on its peripheral surface at a startling rate while you stare at it: Any snowflake you examine isn’t the same one it was a fraction of a second ago.

    Never mind that every nominally 1 mg snowflake is almost certain to contain many impurities, other molecules besides water, various aerosols and whole gunky glops of dust etc. inevitably imbedded randomly in the lattice to complicate the matter. There are a vast number of configurations one can point to and say, at any instant of time, “that’s the thing I’m talking about”, and a mere moment later will defeat that attempt at fixing the description or identity of the ‘thing’.

    The idea that we can compare snowflakes to determine that they may all be different is the myth. The notion that anything should have a fixed identity that slides indelibly along time is seriously mistaken. Indeed, the whole idea that we ourselves as individuals – spectacularly more complex than crystalline lattices made of water – possess any indelible identity validated by physical description is what got us all into compounding the error of thinking religiously upon it.

    The funny part is that atheists (by and large) dive into that myth with as much enthusiasm as the most religious do.

    Just saying.

  43. 43

    Nowhere near Veneta in ’72!

  44. 44

    @osmosis #41: Have you heard Shatner’s cover of “Common People”? It kicks ass. Seriously. Of course it helps that he has Joe Jackson and Ben Folds on the record.

  45. 45

    The video was way too focused to be a ’60′s video.

    the question of terraforming Mars is interesting though I think we might want to do something a little more basic about the geology to reinforce or restart the magnetic field to increase it’s shielding from the solar wind before we find any life that could survive there.
    uncle frogy

  46. 46

    first thing that popped into my head…

    “Developers developers developers…”

  47. 47
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    … What the fuck just happened?

    And why did it involve Dawkins playing an electric recorder?

  48. 48
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened


    … Dafuq?! That was really cool… but in a really wierd way.

  49. 49

    Damn, I miss Max Headroom.

  50. 50
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    Damn, I miss Max Headroom.

    The Edison Carter Show will not be seen tonight. Please enjoy this encore presentation of “Lumpy’s Proletariat.”

  51. 51
    Rip Steakface


    That was not an electric recorder, that was an electric clarinet. Same instrument family, roughly.

    I’m rather impressed that Dawkins can play clarinet – not very many clarinetists you just happen to see out there.

  52. 52

    This reminded me of Terrence McKenna’s presentations in the ’90s. The floating Dawkins heads kind of freaked me out, though.

  53. 53


    It’s neither, actually. It’s an Akai Electric Wind Instrument. It can be configured with recorder or saxophone fingerings, though not clarinet, as far as I know. I’ve played that (and its predecessors) for about twenty years. It can drive almost any hardware or software synthesizer, so its timbral palette is enormous. I’m amazed Dawkins has even heard of it, let alone knows how to play it.

  54. 54

    @ ebotebo #43: Go see Sunshine Daydream – playing at a theatre near you on August 1!

  55. 55
    David Marjanović

    Will have to watch later.

    For example, could they see at a glance that Mars is too distant from the sun and too low-gravity to have ever been the cradle for intelligent life, perhaps because they had first-hand observations of terrestrial planets under various conditions?

    As a corrollary of the gravity that is too low to hold a dense atmosphere for hundreds of millions of years (meteorite impacts actually erode it), plate tectonics stopped long ago, messing with such things as the geochemical carbon cycle, and the magnetic field is very weak, letting a lot of solar wind hit the surface.

  56. 56

    @53 EWI: My EWI is gathering dust. It turns out I like all woodwind instruments that are tenor saxophones

    @53 Dawkins on music: “I spent too much of my time in Oundle’s Music School, fooling around on the clarinet or saxophone, or indeed any other instrument that I might come upon unguarded.” http://edge.org/conversation/growing-up-in-ethology

    I guess there was an unguarded EWI…

  57. 57

    PZ — was your tea made with coleus?

  58. 58
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I have to give Dawkins this… I’m now seriously interested in owning an Akai EWI.

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